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Clients want answers as Bell Pottinger gears up for damage limitation


Oliver Duff
Thursday 08 December 2011 01:00 GMT

Bell Pottinger's clients have sought answers from the agency in the wake of this week's revelations, according to an email leaked to The Independent that illustrates the sense of siege at the company's headquarters.

Managers have told staff that the firm's clients say they don't know "what the fuss is about" as fresh revelations emerge about the lobbying firm's ethics and the claims it makes to win business. Executives warned employees that they expect "further revelations".

Staff were emailed by senior figures including David Wilson, the chairman of Bell Pottinger Public Relations and one of the men at the centre of the scandal. The message was sent "to thank" employees for what it says are all "their supportive messages".

"We have spoken to clients who have had questions," the message adds. "We have had many supportive comments along the lines of what is the fuss about."

The fuss has extended to Downing Street, which has had to admit that lobbyists do influence government policy – a marked change in tone from previous statements.

Amid a growing storm that has been enveloping Bell Pottinger since revelations about its methods were published by The Independent and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the message appears designed to calm nerves and to seek to ensure that staff stick to the firm's "key messages" when speaking to contacts about the affair.

It claims that the stories – detailing the company's willingness to deal with supposed representatives of the Uzbek government, despite the Central Asian country's appalling human rights record – were simply "published to coincide with a Private Member's Bill in the House of Commons, and is undoubtedly part of a wider campaign to put pressure on the Government over its dealings with lobbyists".

Employees are urged to "reiterate key messages that we never agreed to do any work for this fictional company and we would not work for them without proof of the Uzbek government's commitment to change".

It alleges that Bell Pottinger has "never claimed to have influenced government policy" and has helped "all manner of organisations" to present facts and arguments to policymakers "so they can do so in full knowledge of our clients' point of view". These, it says, have included media organisations.

It also reserves praise for the BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones's blog, in which he discusses Bell Pottinger's claims that it could "solve" problems with Google and ensure favourable entries on Wikipedia for clients willing to pay the company's substantial fees.

"On a positive note, it's worth reading the ever-sensible Rory Cellan-Jones's take on one part of this supposed scandal," the message says, providing staff with a link to his blog.

Related links
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The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

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